Alta Cienega Motel: The Other Morrison Hotel

Alta Cienega Motel

The Other Morrison Hotel

It’s been called the most disgusting hotel in Los Angeles. It’s also been called a must-see destination for any serious fan of The Doors. No, it’s not Morrison Hotel. It’s Jim Morrison’s final home in West Hollywood.

The Alta Cienega Motel, a nondescript Hollywood hotel dating back to 1948, sits near the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards in the heart of West Hollywood. As a motel, it’s doesn’t really have a lot going on. It’s just another run-down building with fair-to-poor reviews — an affordable, if somewhat dodgy, option for tourists to use as a home base while checking out the sights of Hollywood.

A postcard for the Alta Cienega Motel back in its glory days. Undated.

But what the Alta Cienga does have going on is that it’s famously the place that Jim Morrison, lead singer for The Doors, called home from 1968 through sometime in 1970 (and possibly into 1971, the year he died).

The big attraction of the Alta Cienega isn’t the motel’s low advertised rates and sparse accommodations. No, people flock to the Alta Cienega to visit the hotel’s Room 32 which has been turned into a living memorial for the much-beloved rock star.

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Sister Cities of Los Angeles

Sister Cities of Los Angeles

In Downtown Los Angeles you’ll find a monument acknowledging all of the cities throughout the world who share kinship with Los Angeles.

The Sister Cities of Los Angeles

Los Angeles has a kinship with 25 cities throughout the world. The program started in 1959 when relationships with Nagoya, Japan (our first Sister City) and Eliat, Israel were established. Most recently, in 2007, Yerevan, Armenia was named a kindred city of Los Angeles.

A monument to these cities stands in Downtown Los Angeles at the corner of 1st and Main, right across the street from Los Angeles City Hall in front of South City Hall.

This is also a really good place to see the official City of Los Angeles Flag flying.

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Behind the Hollywood Sign

Behind the Hollywood Sign

We all know the story behind the Hollywood Sign. But this is the story of how to get behind the Hollywood Sign.

Behind the Hollywood Sign — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

We’ve all heard the stories about the Hollywood Sign. How it used to say Hollywoodland. How it was only meant to be a temporary advertisement for a new real estate development in 1923. How it used to be adorned with lightbulbs. How the “Land” was removed in 1949 at the behest of the Parks Department. How a group of celebrities led by Hugh Hefner (of Playboy fame) saved it in 1978. And, most infamously, how Peg Entwistle jumped off the H to her death in 1932.

No, I’m not going to bore you with any of that. Countless articles on the legend behind the Hollywood Sign have already been written. Instead, I’m going to tell you how to get up close to it.

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Wreck of the Dominator

Wreck of the Dominator

Along the shore below the cliffs of Palos Verdes Estates, you can visit the rusting remnants of a ship that ran aground at this spot in 1961.

Wreck of the Dominator — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

The Demise of the SS Dominator

The SS Dominator, a Greek-owned cargo ship flying under the flag of Panama, sailed down from Portland, Oregon toward the Los Angeles with a ten-thousand-two-hundred ton load of wheat and beef. She was bound for Algiers, but needed to make a re-fueling stop at Long Beach.

Around 5:30 in the evening on March 13, 1961, she encountered some adverse weather around Palos Verdes Point. There was a heavy fog over the sea that evening, and the ship was having a little trouble finding the harbor entrance. The captain, an experienced gent named Papanicolopoulos, had ordered reduced speed (to around 11 knots, roughly about 12 miles per hour). But with no visibility and lacking GPS or any modern-day navigational aids, the ship didn’t stand a chance against the shallow water and sharp rocks that made up the promontory off Palos Verdes.

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The Munch Box

The Munch Box

In Chatsworth you’ll find one of the last classic roadside burger stands in Los Angeles.

The Munch Box

Los Angeles was one dotted with roadside burger stands. Over the years, many of these have vanished in the wake of large development projects or changes in ownership (let’s take a brief moment here to mourn the loss of Jay’s Jayburgers in East Hollywood).

But one burger stand that has so far stood the test of time is The Munch Box in Chatsworth. And, because of its status as a excellent example of a 1950s era hamburger stand, it was named a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument (No. 750) on June 3, 2003. So it’s guaranteed to stick around for at least a little while longer.

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The Photo Shoot

The Photo Shoot

In Beverly Hills, you’ll find the statue of a man photographing a woman, a boy, and a dog in front of a replica of the Giorgio Beverly Hills storefront.

The Photo Shoot

Right where Clifton Way dead ends into Cañon Drive, you’ll come across four painted bronze statues (one of which is a dog) arranged in a shopping scene in front of a replica yellow-and-white storefront. Together, the quartet is known as The Photo Shoot.

The whole scene is a homage to Giorgio of Beverly Hills, the first ritzy retail stores in Beverly Hills and the brainchild of Fred Hayman, the man who pioneered the high-end shopping experience on Rodeo Drive.

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A Walk Down Ord Street

A Walk Down Ord Street

Ord Street is a relatively short street in the heart of Chinatown, but it’s legacy reaches back to the pueblo’s first move toward commercialization.

Ord Street

Ord Street runs in a northwest-southeast line along the western edge of Chinatown. It’s just 1500 feet long, but it has a long history in the development of commerce in Downtown Los Angeles. Today it features a combination of both legacy and emerging businesses, as well as more than its fair share of empty storefronts.

What’s in a Name: Ord Street

Ord Street is named for Edward Otho Cresap Ord, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army who was hired by the Los Angeles City Council to produce the very first map of Los Angeles in July 1849. He received this appointment because he had just surveyed the city of Sacramento.

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Frank Glass and Grace E. Simons Memorial Sculpture

Frank Glass and Grace E. Simons Memorial Sculpture

Located at a site that offers one of the best views of the Los Angeles Skyline, you’ll find an unusual and much neglected sculpture honoring a husband and wife credited for saving Elysian Park.

The Sculpture at Angels Point

The eye-catching sculpture placed at Angels Point was designed by Echo Park-based artist Peter Shire in 1994. The sculpture, commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs, is meant to serve as an echo to the skyline of Downtown Los Angeles — the view of which is excellent from Angels Point, especially during sunrise.

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Nethercutt Museum

Nethercutt Musuem

In Sylmar, you’ll find a building that contains one of the greatest collections of classic cars in the entire world. And visiting the place is free.

Nethercutt Museum — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

J.B. Nethercutt, co-founder of the Merle Norman Cosmetics Company (his aunt was Merle Nethercutt Norman herself) started his car collection in 1956 when he acquired a 1936 Duesenberg Convertible Roadster and a 1930 DuPont Town Car. The two cars, although in rough shape, cost Nethercutt $2,000.

Restoring the cars turned out to be a more monumental task than Nethercutt had initially anticipated. J.B. did the restoration work himself, and restoring the DuPont alone took 18 months and cost him another $65,000. But his investment paid off.

In 1958, the DuPont won “Best of Show” — that’s first place — at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, one of the most prestigious classic car shows in the world. Over the years, Nethercutt has managed to win “Best in Show” six times, the most of any individual in the festival’s 71-year history.

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Elysian Park Secret Swing (No More)

Elysian Park Secret Swing (No More)

On top of a ridge in Elysian Park overlooking Frogtown, there was once a swing hanging from a tree.

Once upon a time, a single swing hung from a lone tree atop a hill on the northeastern side of Elysian park overlooking The 5 Freeway and Frogtown. Over the years, many brave souls would climb the steep trail leading up to the ridge in order to sit in the swing and kick out toward the Los Angeles River, Montecito Heights, Mount Washington, and Cypress Park.

Looking out over Frogtown from the Elysian Park Secret Swing. Photo from the author’s collection.

The swing, reminiscent of (and possibly inspired by) La Casa del Arbol in Baños, Ecuador, went missing a few times over the years. And, until recently, it was always re-installed after a short absence. However, as of the summer of 2020, the Elysian Park Secret Swing seems to have gone on a lengthy vacation.

All that remains of the Elysian Park Secret Swing. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Latest Exploration …

The Not-So-Secret Swing

The Elysian Park Secret Swing was never really a secret. It’s listed prominently on Google Maps, after all. But now when you search for “secret swing elysian park” it shows up as “permanently closed.”

The Swing is also listed on the map as “Secret Swing Angels Point.” But it’s not really at Angels Point. Sure, it’s above Angels Point Road, but the part of Elysian Park known as Angels Point is on the other side of the park overlooking Downtown Los Angeles, about 3/4 of a mile away.

This spot, which offers one of the best views of the Downtown Los Angeles skyline (especially in the morning), is marked by the odd Frank Glass and Grace E. Simons Memorial Sculpture.

But if you like sweeping views of Los Angeles, the location of the Elysian Park Secret Swing is worth visiting, swing or no swing. There’s usually a convenient place to park in a small turnout along the curve of Angels Point Road, and after a steep scramble up the cliff following a network of poorly maintained trails, you’ll also be treated to a view of the east side of Los Angeles as you watch an endless stream of cars crawl along The 5 Freeway as you stand between a pair of graffiti-covered rocks.

The trail up to the former Secret Swing. Photo from the author’s collection.

Elysian Park Secret Swing

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.